Neal Smith

Associate Professor

"History is the foundation for me. For example, there has been a strong foundation established and a major history in jazz, on and off the bandstand. Musically speaking, where the music comes from, where it was derived, the configurations of jazz ensembles from the beginning to the present. . . . Off the bandstand, the lives of people who help create the music. . . . It's about putting life and music together, not just reading something out of a book. Because then you're playing about something; you can draw from that and make comparisons. If you just start playing music and you've never done any research on history, I think there's something missing from the performer."

"There's a language in jazz. It's like going to a foreign place. Go to France, most people speak French. Go to Spain, most people speak Spanish. Playing jazz, you have to speak jazz. In learning the language, you have to do more than learn a bunch of exercises out of a book, but you have to experience black culture, the church, clubs, and concert halls. You also have to do an excessive amount of listening to records, an excessive amount of transcribing records and artists, and taking what an artist was doing at a specific time and comparing that to what was going on in the world at that time and really understand the transitions of the music."

"Reality for me is half academic, half university of the streets. But university of the streets dominates. What I offer a student comes more from a practical application, what it really takes to make a living doing this. I try to be as honest as I can with students. I really like to challenge and pull the best out of them."

"I try not to create patterns in my lessons, so that the material seems really fresh, so that it catches students off guard. When you get called for a recording session, a lot of times you basically have one shot at this. You get called based on your reputation, you come in, and a lot of times you get the music at the session. You have to be able to sight read extremely well, you have to be able to interpret music extremely well, and you have to be able to adapt to your environment."

Career Highlights

 

  • B.A., Oberlin College, jazz studies/percussion
  • Member of Cyrus Chestnut's, Tom Harrell's, and Brian Lynch's bands
  • Performances with Isaac Hayes and Anita Baker, among many others
  • Publications in Modern DrummerDown BeatJazzie, and Jazz Hot